The thing about quality television is that it's easy to recognize. And last week brought a small, hopeful sign that series quality may actually be gaining some importance with the networks.
The Viewers for Quality Television organization announced its list of 1992 Quality Award winners, and for once every show involved is actually returning to the air in the fall.
"Usually it's a mix" of returning shows and canceled series, says VQT founder and president Dorothy Swanson, noting such shows as "China Beach," which was canceled by ABC yet remained a lame duck VQT favorite in last year's balloting.
"I'll Fly Away" won best drama honors in this year's eighth annual voting, and "Brooklyn Bridge" was chosen best comedy.
Regina Taylor of "I'll Fly Away" was best dramatic actress, Scott Bakula of "Quantum Leap" was best dramatic actor, Marion Ross of "Brooklyn Bridge" was best comedy actress and John Goodman of "Roseanne" was best comedy actor.
Among supporting players, Kellie Martin of "Life Goes On" and John Cullum of "Northern Exposure" won for dramatics and Julia Louis-Dreyfus of "Seinfeld" and Michael Jeter of "Evening Shade" won for comedy shows.
Adam Arkin of "Northern Exposure" also won a best specialty player mention, and ABC's "Life Goes On" won Swanson's own Founder's Award, chosen for "an individual or a series that has made a significant contribution to quality television and has been virtually overlooked by industry awards."
More than 900 VQT members nationwide and in Canada returned ballots. Awards are to be presented at the 2,000-member, Virginia-based organization's annual convention in Los Angeles Sept. 19.
"I was pleased with the way the voting turned out," says Swanson. "It showed a real thoughtfulness."
She particularly notes the inclusion of "Brooklyn Bridge" as best comedy, noting the voting proves "a comedy doesn't have to be filled with one-liners and knee-slappers to be significant. It was always consistently, pleasantly humorous."
She suggests the fall return of all the series involved may indicate "the voters chose the shows that maybe needed the boost more."
But she adds, "clearly, the quality shows were renewed, not canceled," and proposes that fact may indicate "a very slow, growing realization by the networks that they're going to go down and out if they don't give these shows a chance to find an audience."
The VQT balloting also paralleled to some degree the list of nominees for the 44th Annual Emmy Awards (the Emmys will be announced Aug. 30 during a live telecast on the Fox network).
For example, "Northern Exposure" is up for 16 Emmys, "Seinfeld" for nine and "Brooklyn Bridge" and "I'll Fly Away" eight each, with the pilot episode of the latter also nominated in six categories.